The “friend zone” – let’s not go there if we want to have more partnerships!

An enormous almond croissant, a mug of tea and an inspirational speaker.  What better way to start the week?   On Monday morning, I listened to Alix Wooding, Assistant Director of Engagement at Anthony Nolan, speak at the Director and Heads of Fundraising Breakfast Club, hosted by Rob Woods.  I came away buzzing.  I also came away pondering some of the parallels between corporate fundraising challenges and approaches and those in major gifts fundraising.

1)The cycle.

Many major gift fundraisers I know are wedded to using ‘the 7 steps of solicitation’.  Many fewer corporate fundraisers seem to follow a process.  They likely have a prospect list but are they ‘moving’ the companies onto the next stage? Are they proposing a partnership – ‘making an ask’?

Alix took us through a recommended corporate fundraising cycle, remarkably similar to most major donor processes: prospecting, qualifying, engaging, asking & negotiating, and partnering & developing.

2)The ‘friend zone’.

As Joey declared to Ross in that episode of Friends in 1994 (how was is it that long ago?!)
“And now you’re in the ‘friend zone’”.

Although philanthropy is all about strong relationships, you don’t want to be in the ‘friend zone’.   I’ve seen it frequently: a fantastic relationship is being built with a high-net-worth individual.  She attends the charity’s exclusive events, she is sent a lovely hand-written Christmas card.  But no one makes the ask!

Alix highlighted that the ‘friend zone’ is the place you definitely don’t want to be with a company.  They come to every event, they do a bit of volunteering, they donate a prize every time you ask. But they’re not a value-added partner.  Why?  Often because you haven’t proposed to them how they could partner with your charity. There was a sea of nodding heads from fundraisers in the room as Alix was talking about this.

3) Let’s not pander to popularity.

Major gift fundraisers are often asked by senior management and trustees:
Q: Why aren’t you approaching x, y or z from the Rich List?
A: Because there are 20 high-net-worth individuals on our prospect list that we have a connection to and are passionate about our cause – and they’re not on the Rich List.

With securing new corporate partnerships, is it all about the top charity of the year schemes, the big names? No!  How refreshing to hear Alix declare that applying to charity of the year partnerships isn’t always the best use of resource.  With odds of sometimes 100-1 and numerous hoops to jump through, the assumption that these companies should always be on your prospect list was challenged by Alix and rightly so in my view.

4) Quality not quantity.

Lastly, in both corporate and major gifts fundraising, why have a prospect list of hundreds if these companies and names are just sitting on a list? Rob Woods gave a great reminder of the inability for the human mind to focus without specificity.

Ask a contact if they ‘know anyone’ who may be interested in your charity?  It’s unlikely you’ll get anywhere.
Show them a list of your top 10 target companies and ask if they have any contacts there, then you really might get somewhere….

With thanks to Alix Wooding and Rob Woods for a great session.

Louise Morris is a Major Gifts and Capital Appeal Specialist and Interim Director of Fundraising for Gingerbread.

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